Guidelines and Ideas for Responsible Pet Ownership

    Everyone talks about responsible pet ownership but just exactly what that consists of isn’t very clear. It means different things to different people.  Now, two very influential organizations, The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Kennel Club (AKC), have created guidelines for responsible pet ownership that make this idea more concrete. These guidelines will certainly give pet owners and pet professionals alike much to think about and discuss. 
      The AVMA has just released its guidelines for responsible pet ownership. It is very nice to see this powerful and influential voice for the welfare of animals put forward these guidelines.  The guidelines appear to have been written to cover all pets from dogs and cats to birds, fish, hamsters and horses, although some guidelines don’t apply very well to some pets.  For example the guideline “Socialize and train your pet, which improves their well-being and the well-being of other animals and people” doesn’t really make sense for fish. 
      The guidelines are described in several places on the AVMA website but are most clearly outlined in a brochure written for pet owners, simply titled “Pet Ownership.” The brochure is short and the guidelines are brief and in some ways cryptic “Recognize any decline in your pet’s quality of life and make timely decisions in consultation with a veterinarian.”  The reference is to age-related declines in pet health and making decisions about euthanasia, but changes in quality of life can occur at any age and may not be related to health issues.  For example, changing a cat’s living conditions from predominantly inside to exclusively outside because the cat no longer reliably uses the litter box, can have dramatic effects on the cat’s quality of life.
      While we think the guidelines should be fleshed out in more detail to be useful, they do cover the major issues related to pet welfare including the selection of pets, assuming life-time responsibility for the pet, providing for adequate health care, training and socialization, not letting a pet become a nuisance to others, controlling breeding of pets, and emergency planning and permanent identification of pets. These are all issues that pet parents should consider before and after they get their pet.  The brochure can be a way to discuss these responsibilities with your veterinarian. You can download the brochure at the AVMA website for free. It can be found at .
      The American Kennel Club, has also created at document about responsible pet ownership for dog owners that seems to pre-date the AVMA guidelines. The AKC document provides a much more detailed list of “suggestions” for responsible dog ownership.  The document is titled “Be a Responsible Dog Owner,” and there are 101 suggestions focused specifically on the ownership of pure breed dogs. Of course, most apply to any dog, pure bred or not.  The AKC recommendations cover the same basic areas as the AVMA guidelines but with much more detail and concrete actions. 
      There are a few “suggestions” that are problematic such as # 75, “Be Alpha,” which promotes the discredited dominance theory of dog-human social relations. So the suggestions need to be evaluated very carefully before they are applied. As with the AVMA guidelines, they can be a useful starting point for discussion of responsible care of dogs with your veterinarian, trainer or other pet professional. They can be found on the AKC website at  

         By the way, if you want to learn more about what’s wrong with dominance theory as it has been applied to dogs you can watch our DVD "The Dangers of Dominance" available at  Also you can learn more about the science of dog behavior from our audio program "Shining the LIght of Science on Canine Behavior" and how to interpret dog communication signals with our DVD  "Canine Body Postures" also available on the ABA website.              


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